Otter Spotting on the North Coast

by Caroline Griffith

Catching sight of a river otter in the wild can be an exhilarating moment. Playful and sleek, Lontra canadensis (sukseswilh in Wiyot or ło:q’-yiditile in Hupa) is the top of its water-based food chain and is a key indicator of habitat health, a sort of “canary in the coal mine” for our watersheds. Lucky for us, the north coast still supports a thriving otter population, so otter spotting, while not exactly commonplace, isn’t rare. Since 1999, HSU wildlife students have been gathering information of citizen sightings of local otters to gain a better picture of their populations and habits, and as a way to monitor the health of north coast habitats. Readers of EcoNews may be familiar with this project which is often advertised in these pages.

In an effort to bring more awareness to this citizen-science project and bring otter spotting to the masses, the North Coast Otters Public Art Initiative was launched in May 2020. This collaboration of art and science involves 108 life-sized otter sculptures painted by local artists and sponsored by conservation organizations and businesses. The timing unfortunately coincided with the total shut-down of public events due to Covid-19, so the unveiling was put on hold. Until now. On World Otter Day, May 26, 2021, these otters started appearing in shops, restaurants and galleries throughout Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte and into Siskiyou and Trinity Counties. 

Photo source: North Coast Otters Public Art Initiative

As the summer progresses, there will be a treasure hunt, along with a map, to locate all of the otter sculptures throughout the area.  More information can be found at The Otter Art sculptures will be auctioned to provide valuable funds for otter studies and student internships with community-based watershed projects. The project is a special partnership with Ink People, North Coast Open Studios, HSU Art Department, California Redwoods Art Association, and the Trinity County Arts Council. 

Photo source: North Coast Otters Public Art Initiative

In the meantime, otter enthusiasts should keep their eyes open for real live otters and be consistent and persistent with their reporting. Don’t just assume that someone else has reported that otter in the marsh. Report river otter sightings, including date, time, location, number of otters and any other observations to or 707-826-3439. Happy otter spotting!



In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, peace activist Gene Sharp described and provided historical examples of 198 methods of nonviolent action (a list of which can be found at Many of these tactics, such as formal letters of support, strikes, boycotts, leaflets and group lobbying, are familiar to readers of EcoNews. One often overlooked tactic of raising awareness and spurring action is art. This month, we are featuring three local art initiatives designed to raise awareness of conservation issues and spur action. We hope you are inspired.

For more info and case studies of nonviolent action visit